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As they enlist soldiers to man operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, military recruiters are finding themselves on the front lines in a different sort of battle — one against the obesity epidemic.

And with the clock ticking down on the military’s Sept. 30 recruitment deadline for financial year 2010, the escalating number of overweight teens being turned away from recruitment centers has some military officials fearing for the future of the services.

“I know the importance of the people that serve in the military,” said Lt. Gen. Norman Seip, a retired Air Force officer with more than 35 years of military experience. “It’s not the weapons. It’s not the high-tech equipment we put on someone’s desk. It’s the people.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classify more than 34 percent of American adults age 20 and older as “obese” — or having a body mass index higher than 30.

And up to 9 million Americans ages 17 to 24 — or nearly 27 percent of the prime military recruiting age demographic — are “too fat to serve in the military,” according to an April study from Mission: Readiness, a non-profit group composed of senior retired military officials. The report cited obesity as the leading medical reason for candidates being deferred from the service, calling the epidemic “a potential threat to our national security.”

According to the study, more than 140,000 individuals failed their military entrance physicals between 1995 and 2008 because of weight problems — a 70 percent increase over that same period.

Source: Julie Percha for ABC News.

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